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March seeks to double Air Force Marathon team

  • Published
  • By Megan Just
  • 452 AMW Public Affairs
Last September, 40 runners from March Air Reserve Base boarded a C-17 Globemaster III and flew to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio for the 14th annual Air Force Marathon. The runners, who completed 10-kilometer, half marathon and full marathon races, helped the Air Force Reserve win the 2010 Air Force Marathon Major Command Challenge trophy.

This year, Col. Karl McGregor, 452nd Air Mobility Wing commander, and Lt. Col. Kris Kraiger, March FITT president, have upped the ante by one hundred percent. Their goal is to see 80 runners boarding the plane for the 2011 Air Force Marathon.

"So many people there were doing races they'd never done before," Colonel Kraiger said about March's runners last year. "Everyone was cheering everyone else on. It was really neat. This time around, we want to get people more tools so they can train safely and be more successful. "

March Fitness and Inspiration Through Teamwork
One way to do this is through March FITT, a private, non-profit organization on base that began after the March runners returned to base last year. Colonel McGregor, who ran the half marathon, suggested Colonel Kraiger and Capt. Linda Baltes start a running club on base.

Colonel Kraiger and Captain Baltes, a sponsored triathlete and a reservist with the 752nd Medical Squadron, liked the idea, but they didn't want to limit the club to runners. They gathered other fitness experts on base and held the first planning meeting for March FITT (Fitness and Inspiration Through Teamwork) by the end of the week. The private organization became effective Nov. 17 and March FITT held their first event Jan. 9.

Kraiger describes FITT as a grassroots effort to build a fun, healthy culture of fitness on the base.

"People have the gym and they have a reason to stay fit, but they don't necessarily have a community that they can stay in shape with," Colonel Kraiger said. "We fill in that gap."

Any person with a Defense Department ID card may join FITT, including dependents who are at least 12 years of age. Although the club is just getting off the ground, it already offers benefits such as free admission to lunch and learn seminars and quarterly group workouts. The club will also participate in one off-base running event per quarter. The first will be the 5K and 10K Eco Run on the Mission Trails in San Diego, March 5.

"Once a quarter or so, you need to have a goal you're reaching towards, something outside of Fit-to-Fight that you look forward to that helps you get in shape," Kraiger said. "The races get us off the base and into the community and it supports esprit de corps within the group."

The marathon trip
Although March FITT is coordinating the 2011 Air Force Marathon trip, membership in March FITT is not required to participate in the marathon. All March service members are eligible to participate, as long as they have permission from their chain of command and can be given permissive TDY orders for the race weekend.

Transportation to Ohio will be aboard a military aircraft and March FITT will arrange ground transportation and other logistics such as reserving a block of hotel rooms. Participants are responsible for paying for their own race entry fees, as well as their food and lodging costs.

Participants may sign up for the 10K, half-marathon, or marathon, but to avoid injury, Colonel Kraiger recommends runners be realistic with their goals when choosing which distance to run.

"If you've never run a 10K, then make that your goal," he said. "If you've run a 10K but you've never run a half marathon, set that as your goal. If you've run a half marathon and you liked that and think you'd like to try to run a marathon, then make that your goal."
In April, Colonel Kraiger said March FITT will host a speaker who will cover the basics of training for running races and give advice on training for 10K, half marathon, and full marathon distances. It will be up to individuals to download their own specific training plans, but March FITT can help match running partners based on the distances and experience levels.

Colonel Kraiger
Colonel Kraiger was a scholarship cross country runner for Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Wash., but didn't consider running a marathon until he neared the age of 30.

"It was a great experience up until 20 miles, then I just locked up," he recalled. "I didn't properly hydrate and I was cramping up. I was in a lot of pain. I never thought I'd do another one, ever."

Ten years later, prompted by some of his cross country teammates, he ran his second marathon. Now he has a goal of running in the Boston Marathon, an elite race which requires participants to pre-qualify at another marathon before they are permitted to enter.

Sergeant Guiterrez
Staff Sgt. Cesar Gutierrez, a traditional reservist with the 452nd Security Forces Squadron, ran his first half marathon last year to support a friend who needed a training partner. He's run several half marathons since, one of which was the Air Force half marathon last year.

"Once I did the first one, I felt a sense of accomplishment," he said. "It wasn't as hard as I thought it would be."

The Air Force Marathon this year will be Sergeant Gutierrez's first full marathon and he encourages other service members to join the team traveling to Ohio this year.

"The main excuse people give for not signing up is that they are too busy," he said. "But you can always find time to train."

Sergeant Gutierrez credits long distance running for increasing his Fit-to-Fight score from 83 last year to 93 this year.

Chief Huch
Chief Master Sgt. Rae Huch, superintendent of the 452nd Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, has also noticed the effect of long distance running on her Fit-to-Fight scores. She began running half marathons last year.

"I am by no means an experienced runner. I have to motivate myself every step I take," she said. "But if I can have the endurance to run or walk a half marathon, running one and a half miles should be a breeze. And so far it has been."

Chief Huch's first half marathon was the Rock and Roll Half Marathon in San Diego. She finished in four hours.

"I was in more pain than you can imagine," she said. "The route, although scenic, was slanted about 30 degrees almost the entire time. As I got to the 12th mile, I remember thinking that if the 'slow poke van' reaches me, then I am done."

Chief Huch completed the race in four hours and went on to finish two more half marathons last year, one of which was at the 2010 Air Force Half Marathon. For each of the races, she was able to shave 20 minutes off her previous personal best. When she returns to the Air Force Marathon's half marathon in September, her goal is to finish in 2:45. She is looking forward to the camaraderie and accountability from her March teammates at the race.

"I'm letting everyone know what my goal is and counting on them to help me keep running when I really want to stop and walk," she said.

Sergeant Bixler
Master Sgt. Paul Bixler, a C-17 Globemaster III Electronics Warfare Technician with the 452nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, ran the full Air Force Marathon last year. It was his first marathon.

"It was on my bucket list", he said. "I am 57 years old and running a marathon had always been one of those must-do things before I became too old to attempt it."

Sergeant Bixler began training for the marathon five months before the race. His training plan began with 5-6 mile runs and culminated in an 18-mile run.

"I trained with a running partner half my age," he said. "I did this on purpose, so that I could train to his (higher) level, and not mentally or physically slack-off."

Sergeant Bixler said finishing the marathon was a huge emotional release. "It would have been one of those jump-up-and-down-and-scream moments in my life, but I had just finished a marathon, and I wasn't capable."

He plans to run in the 2011 Air Force Marathon, "provided my body holds up." To the March service members who are undecided about signing up for this year's races, Sergeant Bixler said, "Put down the remote, get on your feet and start training!"

Joining the team
March's 2011 Air Force Marathon team is capped at 80 runners. Contact Capt. Jennifer Phillips at to make sure there is still space open before registering. Once you have registered for the race at, send your confirmation to Captain Phillips and you will be added to the March team.

The Air Force Marathon web site recommends signing up soon, as races can fill quickly and registration prices will increase as the race weekend approaches.